Baptized into the Body (No. 4 in Series)

Baptized into the Body

A Series on Church Membership

Let us say first and foremost that when we talk about “church membership,” we are talking about really joining a church: officially pledging to worship with a congregation, to serve alongside brothers and sisters in a local setting, and to be accountable to the brethren.  Now, some folks may say that there is nothing “official” about church membership in the New Testament.  Yet, I would respond by saying that the concept of membership was assumed in the early church.  Everyone belonged to a local assembly during the age of the apostles.

For example, when we were baptized, we were united with Christ (Gal 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”), but we were also immersed into the universal church (1 Cor 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . and have all been made to drink into one Spirit”).  When we became Christians, we became church members.  Now, how is that reality played out in our lives?  It is fully realized when we join in the life of a local congregation: worship, service, support, evangelism, etc.

For the next several weeks in these articles we will continue to discuss the importance of church membership, both in obedience to the Lord and for the good of each and every believer.  This series will be helpful for all of us, whether we are already members or not.  To take that initial step to join, we should know what we are getting ourselves into.  We should know the reason for membership and the importance of it.  Likewise, if we are already members, it is appropriate to get a clearer picture of what the Lord expects of us and how we can be a better member of the body of Christ.

The Basic Requirement (No. 3 in Series)

A Series on Church Membership

Mark Dever, a Baptist pastor and author, has said in his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, “The responsibilities and duties of members of a Christian church are simply the responsibilities and duties of Christians.  Church members, like Christians, are to be baptized and to regularly attend the Lord’s Table.  We are to hear God’s Word and to obey it.  We are to regularly fellowship together for mutual edification.  We are to love God, one another, and those outside our fellowship, and we are to evidence the fruit of the Spirit” (159).  Dever is correct, here, to assert that the Christian life is a going-to-church life.

Christian people are those who gather with like-minded believers to learn from the Lord, worship the Lord, and encourage one another toward faith in the Lord.  This is what it means to be a Christian.  We cannot be like a man on the moon or a wanderer on an island.

I know.  I know.  The American culture has told us from the time that we were tots that we should be independent, self-sufficient, and go-get-our-own.  As the young folks say today, “I’m gonna do me.”  Yet, this is in no way a biblical principle.  Sure, we should be hard workers and support ourselves and our families as we earn a living, and we shouldn’t depend on others for everything.  However, Christians are to lean on the Lord and rely on one another.  As the Scripture says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteems others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).

To do these things, we must be together.  We must see one another.  The most important and, at the same time, most basic requirement for church membership is attending gatherings on the Lord’s Day.  Why is the Church in America struggling?  There may be several reasons, but I would argue that one major problem is that we do not even meet together on a regular basis anymore.  When we get together, we get to know one another, we can make lifelong friends, we can support others, and, in turn, we can be supported by others.

Removing Obstacles (No. 2 in Series)

A Series on Church Membership

There is a saying that has been around for some time now that goes something like this: Going to church does not make one a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes one a car.  Of course, this is most often used by those who do not want to attend church gatherings.  Let me say, the most ideal situation for the safety and well-being of a car is to park it in the garage.  Not all of us have garages, but we would if we could!

Can someone be a Christian and not belong to a congregation?  Probably, but the New Testament does not know of any such Christian.  Can someone be a Christian and not attend church services?  Sure, but that is not the ideal situation.  Some folks miss Sunday gatherings because they are too sick to attend, or they are looking after a loved one who is not able to come.  We don’t need to discuss the exceptions.  Let’s talk about the rule.  The New Testament makes plain, as we have seen in our several articles from Heb 10:24-25, that Christians are those who belong to the body of Christ.  All of the believers of the first century, apostolic age where members of local congregations.  They were a blessing to other saints and were also blessed by them.  This is the normal Christian life.

There are those who do not join a church or do not remain active because they are simply stubborn.  Hebrews (and many other places in the Bible) warns us to not be like the Exodus generation who were a rebellious and stiff-necked people.  They did not inherit the promises of God.  Do not be like them!  There are also folks who are afraid to make a commitment.  While the Bible is clear that we should count the costs of following Christ, it is equally as forthright that the decision should be made fairly quickly.  We cannot sit on the fence forever about God and the things of Christ.  Either we are in, or we are out.

The Christian life is the blessed life, and it is also difficult.  Yet, the question is, Are these things true?  If what you have heard about Christ is true, then you must not wait anymore.  Christ demands that we make a decision.  We should commit to Him, but we have to freedom to reject Him.  Either way, we cannot remain neutral.  To do so is to reject Him.

Removing Obstacles (No. 1 in Series)

A Series on Church Membership

Have you ever heard someone say that they will not join a church because it is full of hypocrites?  If someone has not said this directly to you, at the very least, you have heard of the claim through the grapevine.  Many think that Christians are fake and shallow.  Is this true?  Here is my response: Sure, there are many Christians in name only.  Just because people claim to be Christians does not mean that they have truly been born again.  Furthermore, and maybe more importantly, true Christians do not claim to be perfect.  On the contrary, we confess that we are sinners in need of forgiveness.  We mess up; we neglect things that we should do; we say things wrong; we are not what we want to be, much less what God wants us to be.  This is the core of the Christian Faith.  The Gospel teaches that all people are wrongdoers, but God has sent Christ to pay the penalty for our failures.  We admit, our lives do not always match our confession, but we are working on it.

Another reason that some folks will not join a church is because they have been treated harshly by some church in the past, or maybe by an individual who represented a church.  This is always unfortunate.  There are so many people who are power hungry and/or self-righteous.  Jesus taught against this kind of behavior.  Leaders are not to “lord it over” congregations, and no Christian should demean others for any reason.  We should also acknowledge that churches are not all the same.  At RHCC, we are serious about the Scriptures, but we are also laid back.  We are not perfect, but one of our goals is to create an atmosphere of grace.  This means that we want to work with one another, grow together, and forgive one another.  We have to be willing to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness from one another as well as extend forgiveness to others.  Reconciliation and unity must be primary concerns for us as a church.

Maybe you are a regular attendee but something is holding you back or maybe you are a member who is not as involved as you should be: Do not be afraid to join the church.  Is church-life always easy and perfect?  No, but it can be great together!

A Vote of Confidence (No. 9 in Series)

A Vote of Confidence (No. 9 in Series)
Before we leave the Hebrews 10 passage (this is the last one, I promise), I would like to point out one more positive note.  In the context, the exhortation to not forsake the assembly is sandwiched between a call to draw near to God relationally with great confidence (vv. 19-23) and a fearful warning against the willful sin of apostasy (vv. 26-31).  My friend, Dave, is the one who has called attention to this bracketing and how it suggests that routine Christian assembling serves to (1) shore up salvific confidence and assurance (vv. 19-23) on one hand, while also   (2) helping to inoculate from apostasy (vv. 26-31) on the other.

In this article, I would like to focus on the connection with the surrounding verses.  How interesting it is to see the link between drawing near to God and drawing near to one another.  God has made us relational creatures.  We thrive when we are together.  Some of us are built in a way that we do well on our own, and some have a hard time with interaction, but I think we all know, deep down, that we need our church community.

Our Christian friends are the ones who can encourage us when we are down, confront us when we are backsliding, comfort us when we are hurting, teach us when we are lacking, and provide us the boost of confidence we need in our salvation.  It is difficult to imagine a person losing his or her salvation when thoroughly involved in the life of the church.  How rare it must be for people to lose their faith when they are gathering each week with the church, praying together, worshipping together, participating in the Lord’s Supper, listening to messages from the Scriptures, and fellowshipping with brothers and sisters.  Surely, it must be nearly impossible!

The key for the Christian life is being involved in the life of the church on a consistent basis.  Now, remember what we said last week: This is not a call to “live at the church building.”  Yet, it is a call to be thoroughly involved.  How involved are you?  Are you fully engaged?  Are you participating in the life of the church on a regular, even weekly basis?

The Threat of Apostasy (No. 8 in Series)

The Threat of Apostasy (No. 8 in Series)

We all know that someone’s behavior is a good indication of the person’s thinking and where his or her heart is.  What someone does or neglects to do says a lot about the person.  When a Christian does not participate in the life of the church, what does it say about that person?  What does it mean for his or her state of mind?  Is there any connection between church attendance and salvation?

When reflecting upon the connection of verses 24-25 with verses 26-28 in Hebrews 10, one author has said bluntly, “Failure to [meet] is associated with apostasy” (Ellingworth, 528).  What is apostasy?  It is when a Christian turns away from the Lord, when a believer no longer believes.

Now, we do not believe that one is saved by good works, including church attendance.  We do not believe that one remains a Christian by righteous behavior.  We believe that we can never do enough to save ourselves or keep us in God’s favor.  Yet, being saved by God’s grace in Christ does not mean that we cannot cooperate with God and obey His Word.

The Lord has instructed us in the way we should live.  Although our bodies may deteriorate due to aging, illness, and the like, we may be continually renewed in our spirits.  We can grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  We can be encouraged, helped, supported, and more so that we do not give up in the life of faith.  We need each other in order to persevere until the end.  If we try to go at it alone, we may possibly shrink into unbelief.

While attending church gatherings may not save you in the direct sense, it may be a big help in your salvation in an indirect way.  The simple act of going to church will not make you righteous before God, but the church itself, the people, can spur you on to a life of faith and not let you give up trusting Christ.  As my friend Dave would say, routine Christian assembling has a way of shoring up our confidence in salvation as well as helping to inoculate us from apostasy.  Do you want to guard yourself from unbelief?  A great way is by attending and involving yourself in the life of the church!

A Word of Clarification (No. 7 in Series)

A Word of Clarification (No. 7 in Series)

As I was reading a few weeks ago for this series of articles concerning church attendance, I came across a lengthy quote which says clearly what I would like to say about this subject because I want us to be clear on what the passage in Hebrews 10:24-25 is teaching.  George Guthrie has written, “Another caution is in order with regard to the author’s challenge to ‘not give up meeting together.’  This exhortation has been used at times to exhort church members to attend every meeting offered by the church during the week: Sunday School, Sunday morning worship, evening worship, visitation on Monday night, prayer meeting Wednesday night, Bible study Friday noon; all are held up as part of the standard for ‘let us not give up meeting together.’”  I hope you know that I have not intended to guilt you into “living at the church building.”  The point is not to be here every time the doors are open necessarily.  I simply want you to see the value of church membership.  I want you to make a commitment to regular church attendance.

Guthrie continues his comments, “The principle behind this part of the author’s challenge, however, has to do with consistent involvement in the life of the church rather than frenetic activity in all the programs of the church.  We as Christian leaders must not burden people with a guilt trip if they are not at the church five nights a week.  The question is whether they are meaningfully engaged in the life of the body on a weekly basis.  Are they involved in worship?  Are they being educated through preaching and teaching of God’s Word?  Are they ministering, exercising their spiritual gifts?  Are they experiencing Christian fellowship?  We should teach these aspects of healthy Christian living and allow the Holy Spirit to show them how these are to be lived out consistently.”  This is the standard.  This is what pleases God.  This is what makes for a strong, faithful church.  This is what makes for a healthy Christian individual and family.  Let us examine ourselves in this aspect of our Christian lives and recommit to regular, weekly church attendance.

The End is Near (No. 6 in Series)

The End is Near (No. 6 in Series)

Some scholars demonstrate a connection in Heb 10:24-25 between the gathering of God’s people now (the church) and the gathering on the Last Day when Christ returns.  The point may be made based on that connection that, “Those who habitually abandon this assembly when it is gathered for worship risk exclusion from the community of the faithful, and thus forfeiture of the ultimate salvation that Christ provides for his own” (Cockerill, 480).  In simple words, if you are not willing to stand with the church now, will you stand with the church on the Last Day?  If you will not completely identify with the people of God now, will you be identified with the saved in the end?

You see, a church sways toward spiritual defeat under the various pressures of the culture when its members withdraw from one another.  Especially in a time of testing, as we are just now beginning to experience in our own country, we must deepen and strengthen our Christian fellowship and bond.  This same risk of spiritual defeat, of course, also applies to individual Christians.  If we are going to stand strong in the faith as individuals, as families, and as churches, then we are going to need to be equipped, trained, encouraged, and armed for spiritual warfare.  It is the church community that will provide these necessities for the Christian life.  We need one another.  We need to teach one another, hold one another accountable, encourage one another, love one another, support one another, and so much more.  We need to be together.

The goal is to make it to the finish line.  The prize is to receive the fullness of all the promises that we have in Christ, to receive our eternal inheritance.  We must “see” with the “eyes of faith” the quickly-approaching return of Christ.  This age and your life here will not last forever.  Let us hold fast our hope with unswerving loyalty to Jesus Christ as we see His day drawing near.  Considering one another, provoking one another to loving works, not abandoning the church, and exhorting one another will all go a long way toward getting us to the finish line.  Christ is coming, and we want to be ready.

Constant Encouragement (No. 5 in Series)

In Heb 10:25 we are given two ways of provoking one another to works of love: (1) Not forsaking the meetings where Christians gather for worship and fellowship; and (2) Exhorting one another.  Both of these, “not forsaking” and “exhorting,” are called “instrumental participles.”  You can see in English that these are participles by the use of “-ing” at the end of the words.  An instrumental participle is one that shows “how” something takes place.  It indicates “by means of.”  So, the Hebrews writer is telling believers to consider one another in order to stir-up loving deeds, and you may ask: Well, how do I do that?  The Scripture says, “By means of not forsaking the assembly and by exhorting one another.”  We have already discussed the first, so let us now discuss the second part, “Exhorting one another.”

Instead of abandoning the church, we are to exhort one another.  Exhortation means “urgent insistence” and may include the full range of meanings: rebuke, warn, encourage, comfort.  The author has already told his readers in 3:13, “Exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”  We must encourage each other in the life of faith with reminders of the sufficiency of Christ and of all His privileges.  We have to continually tell one another to not give up, to finish the race.

Healthy Christian living involves mutual encouragement, that is, encouraging other believers through your presence, your actions, and your words as well as receiving encouragement from other believers for yourself.  This takes place when we remain faithful in our association with the body of Christ.  We have to be together to accomplish this circle of encouragement.

This world beats us up.  Many of us have stressful jobs.  Health concerns in our families are difficult to manage.  Raising kids in this corrupt culture sometimes feels overwhelming.  The terrible way Christians are being treated in our country is something that many believed would never come.  In simple words, life is not easy.  We have to take one day at a time.  We must lean on the everlasting arms of God.  But, we can also lean on one another.  This is the way that the Lord has ordained for us to live—in community.  We must cheer for one another.  We must support one another in Christian love.

You! Yea, You! (No. 4 in Series)

In our last article, we saw in Heb 10:25 that the most basic way that we can develop love in the Christian community is by “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” that is, we have to be together in order to love and encourage one another.  We cannot neglect Sunday gatherings.  Church attendance has to be one of the highest priorities in the Christian’s life.

The preacher even puts some on the spot with, “as is the manner of some.”  He is saying, You!  Yea, you!  Those of you who have sporadic attendance, you are not only hurting your own spiritual life, but you are actually sabotaging the health of the whole church.

It had become commonplace for some of those believers to seldom attend church times, and we are experiencing the same predicament in many American congregations.  While we may think that things have changed, that our culture is too fast-paced, and that these demands are too strenuous for modern believers, we should be aware that this is nothing new.  In the early days of the church, Christians were expected to gather together regularly, and when many abandoned the assembly, they were called out.  Christians are to be holy, that is, different.  It is not too much to ask that believers gather consistently.  We go to work and school every day.  We have our own hobbies that we do not desert.  We take our kids to their extracurricular activities each week without fail.  Why would we not give, at the very least, the same kind of commitment to the Lord and our brothers and sisters in Christ?

The Hebrews audience may have been discouraged from attending church gatherings due to persecution, the delay of the second coming, divided loyalties to church and synagogue, a sense of superiority, short-sightedness, laziness, simple dulling over time, or by outright indifference.  Whatever the reason, the preacher makes clear that their neglect is not good.  There are many excuses today for lack of church attendance.  Some are more legitimate than others.  For example, one author has said, “[S]ome people have not found within our churches the warmth, care and concern for which they hoped [so] they have turned away” (Brown, 187).  That may be a legitimate excuse but should be carefully considered.  Have we prayed for unity?  Have we, ourselves, worked toward the type of community that we would like to experience in our church?  In my humble opinion, very few excuses actually hold up under honest scrutiny.  Let’s not allow lack of attendance to be our habit.

Abandonment Issues (No. 3 in Series)

As we continue our discussion of Heb 10:24-25, we should remember how the exhortation began: “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”  One of the primary ways we do this is by, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.”  The “assembling of ourselves together” can mean more sharply, “our own assembly” (Cockerill, 480).  The word “assembly” is the word for a gathered group of people.  It is the local church that the preacher has in mind.  We are not to abandon the local church.  It is not “church attendance” in general that we are not to forsake but the actual people.

There is Old Testament background to the idea of abandonment.  In the Greek version of the OT, the word “forsake” is a covenantal term which is used 170 times and often refers to Israel abandoning the Lord and His ways (Deut 28:20; 31:16; 32:15, 18; Judg 2:12, 13, 20; 10:10, 13; 1 Sam 8:8; 12:10; also see 2 Tim 4:10, 16).  To “forsake” the assembly is to neglect the Lord’s expectations for us, but it is also to “abandon” other believers and deprive them of needed support.  One scholar has put it this way, “The first negative concern is prerequisite . . . those who absent themselves from God’s people can do nothing to ‘provoke one another to love and good works’” (Cockerill, 479).  If we are to love one another and encourage others to be loving, then we must be together.  Again, let it be said, we can never truly minister to one another if we keep each other at a distance.  This abandonment has tragic results because encouragement cannot take place in isolation.  You see, you do not go to church just for yourself.  You go to church for others.  You go to church to share with and support other Christians.

Our own local church cannot be all that God wants it to be unless we individually and as households decide to make a commitment to gather together on a regular basis for worship and fellowship.  “[T]he author [of Hebrews] sees their discontinuance of common fellowship and worship as fatal for perseverance in the faith” (Guthrie, 345).  The local church is at the very least damaged by lack of attendance and may even be destroyed without a covenantal commitment of its members.

Stirring Up Love (No. 2 in Series)

Hebrews 10:24-25 begins with, “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”  The first place to begin a discussion of church attendance is, as we saw last week, the consideration of one another.  The primary purpose of paying attention to one another is to “stir up love and good works.”  The phrase, “stir up” can be used negatively for something that is bothered, but here it is used positively for motivation and stimulation.  There is some irony in the wording.  The idea is to “provoke” someone.  Just as a person may be forcefully provoked to anger, believers are told to strongly provoke one another to a life of love.  A stagnant pond breeds bacteria, but a flowing stream keeps the water fresh.  Believers should constantly work toward the stimulation of others so that the “water” of the Christian community will remain “fresh” and “healthy.”

The “stirring” is to be a motivation to love and good works, or “good works inspired by love” which was, apparently, the church’s reputation (Heb 6:10).  Christians have a high calling to stimulate one another spiritually and morally, to lead a life of mutual encouragement.  The best way this is accomplished is to share in one another’s lives; to assemble together for worship and fellowship.
Love is expressed relationally.  We must spend time, get to know, and form a bond with each other in order to love one another and motivate love in our church.  We can never truly consider or motivate one another to loving deeds if we keep each another at a distance.

And, be sure, this love is not emotional or soft, it is a condition of the heart to do what is right in our relationships with others.  We should welcome every opportunity to gather with the people of God in order to grow in our own love and motivate others to do the same.

Church Attendance (No. 1 in Series)

I have noticed a tendency for attendance to fluctuate back-and-forth from week to week in most churches.  There will be a decent attendance one week and, when the next week comes, there will be something like a 20 person drop-off.  This back-and-forth issue has been going on for a long time in most churches.

I started researching this issue in other sources.  I have learned that this is not only an RHCC problem, but it is an epidemic in American churches across all denominations and traditions.  For example, one friend from a United Methodist, city church of decent size said that the average attendance for their young adults is 1 of 4 Sundays per month.  Another friend from a Southern Baptist, rural church with an attendance of 1,400 per week said that folks come 2 of 4 Sundays per month.

Now, I have already presented this attendance issue as a “problem.”  Over the next several weeks, I plan to write articles addressing this issue and why I think it is a problem that must be fixed.  I am not concerned about this out of impure motives, I do not think, and maybe I can prove that in these articles.  I do not want to be legalistic or judgmental about attendance.  Attending church does not get someone to heaven, at least not directly (more about that later); and I am not one to only focus on “the numbers.”  Attendance, I will say from the start, is vitally important to the life of the Christian and the Christian community, and it must not be neglected or abandoned.

Can this problem be fixed?  I do not know.  It takes a lot to undue a culture that has been cultivated for decades.  Yet, my task as the pastor-teacher of the church is to share with you what the Bible says about the Christian life.  I figured that I had three options: continually stress over the issue; learn to ignore it; or tackle it head-on.  I am not one to shy away from a challenge, so I have decided to tackle the issue head on.  I will do what I can to teach our church what the Bible says about these things and to encourage everyone in their Christian Faith.

The go-to passage for church attendance is Hebrews 10:24-25.  There will most likely be many other things that I will share outside of this passage, but let us park here for a few weeks.  The author begins his final commands with the words, “Let us consider one another. . . .”  The term “consider” is the controlling verb for these two important verses.  The word means “to take notice;” or “pay attention to;” or “look closely at;” or “concentrate by fixing one’s thinking on something.”  What is it that we are to concentrate on?  Well, it is actually a Who.  We are to consider “one another.”  Christians are to set their minds on other Christians.  We are to look out for the well-being of fellow believers.  The Christian life is not an isolated life.  It is not an independent life.  We should not, and really cannot, go at it alone.  We need to pay attention to others, and, wait for it, we need others to pay attention to us.  This is where we start, “Christians, let us consider one another.”

Moving On to Maturity

Moving On to Maturity

In Hebrews 6:1, the NKJV says, “Let us go on to perfection.”  Many other modern translations probably convey the meaning more clearly by using the word, “Maturity.”  So, the NIV says, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.”

Let us start with the subject of what this verse does not mean before moving to its actual meaning.  When the writer commands believers to leave behind or move beyond the elementary doctrines concerning Christ, he does not mean that we are to move on to something different.  We do not become Christians one way and then remain Christians in an entirely different way.  No, we are converted by faith, and we continue in our salvation by faith.  Justification (being made “right” with God) and sanctification (progressively becoming holy) are both by faith.  The Scripture says in multiple places that the just shall live by faith.  Salvation is from faith to faith.  Faith in the beginning; faith in the end; and faith everywhere in between.  One does not move beyond salvation by grace through faith.  One does not move beyond Christ.

Heb 6:1 is an exhortation to Christians to grow in their faith and in the Faith.  To do so, we must move beyond the elementary teachings of Christ in the sense that we must build upon the foundational principles that we have learned in our walk with the Lord.  We should not become stagnant by only teaching and discussing the same old things all the time.  We should be able to build upon the simple Gospel message that we heard in the first place.  We do not move beyond the Gospel, but we can progress much farther in our understanding of that wonderful message.  We can grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.

Why is Christian growth necessary?  Well, for one, it is commanded by the Lord all over Scripture.  This is His will for us.  The Lord is pleased and glorified by our continued progress in the faith.  Also, continued growth ensures the believer that he/she is not going to apostatize, that is, turn away from so great a salvation.  As move grow in our faith, we grow closer and closer to the Lord and farther away from the world.  We move more and more into grace and farther away from Hell as we mature in our relationship with Christ.

Thus, my ministry in the church, from the pulpit, and online (, Midweek eBulletins, Facebook, etc.) is, “For Progress and Joy in Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Receiving the Gospel

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Receiving the Gospel             WC McCarter

I have a scenario that I would like for you to imagine, and some of you may have been in this situation at one time or another.  Imagine that you have an awful, life-threatening disease.  Imagine how desperate you would be.  Now imagine that you have the cure: you have the medicine and the treatments.  You know exactly what it takes to cure the disease, and there are millions of people all over the country and globe that have the same disease.  What would you do?  Would it suffice to think that you could just live a healthy life, be positive and encouraging, and people would see you and discover the cure?  Could you just set a great example of what a cured person looks like?

What if you had a neighbor that lived directly beside your house, a woman who had the same disease that you had?  Would you just smile and wave when you saw her?  Could you love her to the cure?  Or, what if another neighbor had a teenage son who was struggling with the same disease and was on his deathbed?  Would you visit him and show him how healthy you are?  Would you keep your mouth shut and let your life do all the talking?  Or, would you visit the woman beside you and tell her exactly what combination of treatments and medicine she needs?  Would you visit the teenaged boy and his family to tell them how simple the cure is?  Would you lead the way with your life and example as well as with the words and directions to the cure?

I hope that you would open your mouth and share.

READ Scripture- This is the Word of God

Main Point:
The apostolic team greets the Thessalonians and state their practice of regularly giving thanks to God for the church.  The missionaries are confident that the Thessalonians are born again.  They have seen the fruit of it with their own eyes, and their faith was being talked about all over the place.

Faith, Love, and Hope (1-4)
Isn’t it nice to have some Christian friends whom you can be thankful for?  How often do we give thanks to God for those people?  How often do we thank the Lord for our church family?  Paul could not help but remember the wonderful conversion of the Thessalonians and the relationship that he had built with them in only a short time.  When he thought of them, he could not help but be thankful to God for them.

Notice what it was that he remembered.  There is a triad of things in the third verse that the missionary team constantly remembered of them: (1) work of faith, (2) labor of love, and (3) patience of hope.  Here we can see one of Paul’s favorite triads: faith, love, and hope which has been called by another author, “The trinity of classic Christian virtues” (Green, 89).  Chapter three shows us that Timothy returned to Paul and the others with the report of the Thessalonians faith and love and their steadfastness (see 3:6-8).  These three fruits are “in our Lord.”  These are activities that they are carrying out because of their conversion.  They are being changed from the inside-out.  We can spend day-after-day and year-after-year attempting to change someone’s behavior, but only the work of God in someone’s soul can do that.  They may, for a time, be able to get things straight, but it would only be artificial.  Behavior can truly change for the long-term if there is an inner conversion.  That is what happened among the Thessalonians Christians.

It seems to me that these three actions are in a certain order.  Faith comes first.  We must believe that Christ is who He claims to be.  We must trust that what He has done on the cross is enough to bring us into a right relationship with God and to save us.  The next phase in the Christian’s conversion is growth in our love for God and one another.  We may even say that love for our neighbors develops so that we evangelize those around us.  Love is what Jesus said is the fulfilment of all the Law, and it is the theme of the New Testament.  As we continue to develop in our Christian lives, we begin to see more clearly and want more deeply to experience the return of Christ.  Our hope is in Him for the future and for all eternity.  So, these three virtues are not some abstract idea.  These are experienced deep in the soul and effect how we interact with the world around us.  We are not closed off from the world.  We live in the here and now working by faith, laboring in love, and patiently hoping in God.  Paul knew the Thessalonians were the “elect of God” because he could see the work of God in their lives and in their church.  I hope the same is said of us.

The Gospel’s Coming (5)
Another triad is given in verse five.  The Gospel most certainly came to the Thessalonians in words.  The Gospel always comes in words.  We should strive to demonstrate the Gospel in our behavior, but the Gospel must be shared in words.  Think back to our original scenario of being cured from a life-threatening illness.  If we found a cure for cancer, we would broadcast it all over the world, wouldn’t we?  We would write articles about it.  The news would show it endlessly on TV.  We would write books about it.  We would call our friends.  We would post it on the internet and more.  The Gospel must be in shared with words.  It must be shared fervently.  Pulpits may reach a few people.  I may be able to share the Good News with 70 on a Sunday, but if each of us shared the Good News during the week, how many could we reach?

Excitingly, Paul says that the Gospel came to them not simply in words but was accompanied by: (1) power, (2) the Holy Spirit, and (3) much assurance.  Then, at the end of verse five, we are told that the word also came by example.  We should strive to live a life that exemplifies the Gospel AND to open our mouths and share it.  God uses that testimony and works miracles in people’s lives.  The power comes from Him.  By the Spirit, He changes folks inside-out.

The Marks of True Conversion (6-10)
How does the apostle know that the Thessalonians are the “elect of God?”  He can see their faith, love, and hope.  He can see the fruit of their Christian commitment.  There are marks of true conversion that are showing in their lives and in their church.  The apostle recognizes growth in the believers.

The have become imitators of the apostolic team and the Lord (6).  They received the Gospel in much affliction.  Like their apostle and their Lord, they suffered much, but continued with the joy of the Spirit.  Their church was born into affliction, but they pressed on.

Not only did the Thessalonians receive the Gospel, but, in turn, they became preachers of the Gospel.  Like Paul, they experienced Christ’s redeeming work and wanted others to have the same.  Remember, Paul says in another place, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  Disciples are disciple-makers.  Disciple-making is a mark of true conversion.

The have become a model for the gospel (7-10).  In every place people were talking about them (7-9a).  Their conversion is exemplary (9b-10).  They welcomed the apostolic team (9b).  They turned away from idols (9c).  They turned to the true God and now await eschatological salvation (10).

Description of Jesus:   God’s Son
                                    from heaven
                                    raised from the dead
                                    delivers us from the wrath to come

Conclusion and Christian Application

(1) What fruits have you seen in your life and the lives of those around you that confirm a new birth?

(2) What kind of example are you setting for those around you?  Should we plan to influence others?

(3) Do you have the Spirit?  He is our only guarantee.

Are Christ's Words Greater Than Paul's?

Are Christ’s Words Greater Than Paul’s?

The argument of Christ’s teachings on forgiveness versus the apostle Paul’s teaching on the same subject once came up in a conversation I had with someone.  Apparently, it is a common understanding among some Christians that Christ’s words are greater than Paul’s or any other biblical author.  I have a few objections to this line of thinking.

First, all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17).  From the Old Testament to the New, all of the books of the Bible are uniquely inspired by God.  Now, some books or portions of books may be more edifying to Christians than others, but all Scripture is inspired and authoritative over our lives.

Second, we affirm that all 66 books of the Bible are Scripture, and we even have internal evidence to this fact.  The apostle Peter refers to Paul’s writings “Scripture” (2 Pet 3:15-16).  So then, the great apostle Peter confirms that what Paul writes is from God.

Third, Christians have held for centuries that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 4:6; 1 Pet 1:11).  This is the great mystery of the Trinity.  This is Christian doctrine.  The presence of the Spirit is the presence of Christ (even Christ taught that He would come again to the disciples by means of the Spirit [John 14:15-18]).  The work of the Spirit is the work of Christ.  Jesus also promised that the Spirit would come to teach (John 16:13-15).  We know that the Holy Spirit is the One who moved the prophets of old to write Scripture (2 Pet 1:21), and, based on the passages just seen in John, we believe that the Spirit of Christ inspired the New Testament authors to write Scripture as well.

Therefore, the whole Bible is authoritative because the whole Bible is the Word of God.  The whole Bible has been inspired by Christ.  Thus, Christ and Paul do not contradict one another.  They cannot contradict one another.  There is no scenario where one should say, “I’m taking Jesus’ word on this over Paul’s.”  The two always agree.  Paul, as an apostle, fully represents Christ.  Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes Christ’s words.  The whole Bible fits together into a beautiful revelation of God’s will for this world and our lives.

Don't Believe Everything You Read--Winston-Salem Journal

Don’t Believe Everything You Read--Winston-Salem Journal

The articles written by Dr. Earl Crow in the Saturday editions of the Winston-Salem Journal are a train wreck. He does not represent evangelical Christianity and demonstrates that he has no clue what he is doing when discussing scriptural passages.  Some may think that this is a strong or even harsh statement, but allow me to elaborate.  I will provide some general comments about his articles as well as some specific points.

Dr. Crow often implies or pushes the answer in a certain direction without ever stating his actual position.  For example, our adult class during The Blend recently read his article about Hell, and without ever explicitly stating the point, he implied that Hell is not real and that all will be welcomed into Heaven.  Crow often quotes Scriptures that have nothing to do with the subject at hand.  For example, when asked if we will know each other in heaven, he quoted Matt 8:11 which says, “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”  Now, tell me, what does that verse have to do with the question?  The last point that I will make is that Crow often questions evangelical, traditional teaching without actually explaining how it is wrong or offering a truly biblical alternative to the traditional position.

What is our lesson?  Do not believe everything you read (or hear or watch) without studying the subject for yourself, fact-checking, and getting (at least) a second opinion.  Just because something such as a television show, movie, or newspaper article is “religious” does not mean that it is accurate.  There are many wolves masquerading as sheep (Matt 7:15).  The New Testament is full of warnings to beware of false teachers (e.g. Rom 16:17-18; Col 2:8; 2 Tim 4:3-4; 2 Pet 2:1-22; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:10-11).  We do well to heed those warnings in our own day.

Now, let me express some humility.  I do not have it all figured out.  I cannot answer every question.  However, there is nothing worse or more devastating to a Christian’s walk than for someone who is “religious” and “educated” to appear to be an “angel of light” and yet only deceive believers.  Crow is a PhD who uses common misconceptions to gain sympathy for his positions.  The way he goes about his writing and teaching is sad and, honestly, disgusting.  So, again, do not believe everything you read.

If you have any questions or comments about Dr. Crow’s articles, please email me at, call me, stop by the office, or bring it to my attention on a Sunday.

Romans 8:1-4 Reason to be Excited

Romans 8:1-4      Reason to be Excited                                WC McCarter

I truly want people to be happy and to find satisfaction in life, but I must be honest: many are looking in all of the wrong places.  I know too many people who go from one hobby to the next, one job to the next, one partner to the next.  God has blessed us with all sorts of things in which we can find pleasure.  There is nothing wrong with involving ourselves in fun and entertaining activities, but we know that they are not lasting.  I want you to find your ultimate satisfaction in Christ Jesus.  I want you to fully understand that Christ’s work of reconciliation is not only for the age to come but to be enjoyed now.  Eternal life begins now and will be enhanced in the age to come. I want you to live abundantly and free under the influence of the Holy Spirit and in the power of the resurrection of Christ.  There is reason to be excited today.

I want you to be attracted to the Lord Jesus Christ, to love Him, treasure Him, spend time with Him, and trust Him.  Romans 8 is about life, life now and life eternal.  This chapter is special in the revelation of God.  It declares what it means to be a Christian from “no condemnation” at the beginning of the chapter to “no separation” at the end.  In talking about the Christian’s life and confidence, the Holy Spirit is mentioned 19 times!  The apostolic doctrine of the New Testament concerning life now and forever involves the Holy Spirit as its focal point.  Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “In [Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

This section in the epistle begins at Rom 6:14 which says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”  Today’s sermon text is part of one flow of thought that runs through verse 13 and concerns the subject of “life.”  We will talk about the Christian life in the here and now.  We are looking forward to heaven, but how do we live now?  Are we to only trudge through this life, or do we have reason to be excited?

READ Scripture- This is the Word of God

Justification and Sanctification
In the first two verses of this chapter both justification and sanctification are declared. God has reversed the guilty verdict that we all were given. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yet now, God declares us justified (not guilty) because we are “in Christ Jesus.” Of course, there are existing consequences for our sins now, but what the Scripture is teaching us that there are no eternal ramifications for our sins if we are in Christ. “Condemnation” refers to the state of lostness, separation from God. We are free from condemnation not because we are sinless, but because we have put our faith in Christ Jesus who was but laid His life down for us. You see, Christ took our place of condemnation and He bore the full burden of it that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The Holy Spirit has taken those accomplishments of Christ in our behalf and made us free. 2 Cor 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
We follow the law of the Spirit which is liberty, and in this liberty we are called to serve one another. Gal 5:13 says, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” We no longer operate under the law of sin and death, but under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ.

The Law’s Weakness
The Scripture says that the law was weak through the flesh. The law itself was not weak. It is not sinful, wrong, or weak in and of itself, but its weakness is the flesh (the influence of sin). It can name your sin, it can diagnose your problem, it can declare you guilty, but it cannot save you.

The law could/can name one’s sin and could pronounce judgment on it, but nothing else. If the law could not fix sin nor put it to death then all it was doing was adding up one’s transgressions and sins and trespasses and failures. Though the chief weakness of the law was and is the FLESH. The Law cannot be criticized for its weakness- only the participants.

God Did
It is the work of Christ, and Christ alone, that has set us free. We can live in this resurrection power because of what He has already done. Christ Jesus shared in the essential human nature- flesh and blood, bones and marrow. Jesus was in fact God as a physical human being, but only in the “likeness of sinful flesh.” “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” “(Our High Priest) was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” It was God who did something. “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” It took a mighty act of God to save us. It took a mighty act of God to reverse the guilty verdict. “What the law could not do: GOD DID.” The Spirit can liberate us because of the situation that Christ has caused.

What was it that God intervened to do? Condemn sin. The just requirement of the law was fulfilled in God’s condemnation of sin. The “just requirement of the law” is surely perfect obedience and submission to God the Father. Christ has fulfilled the just requirement of the law and it is applied to us when we believe in Him, put our faith in Him, and when we treasure Him.

Conclusion and Christian Application
Verse 5 may serve as an appropriate conclusion. Let us set our minds on the things of the Spirit.

We do not strive to be justified or sanctified by the works of the flesh, but by the fruit of the Spirit. A vine does not produce grapes by any demand that is made. It produces fruit that comes out of its own life. When we participate in the divine nature and we are in Christ then fruit will be produced out of Christ’s own life not by any demand. Until we are in Christ Jesus and setting our minds on the things of the Spirit, we…are…dying. If all we do is read secular novels, watch tv, and talk to unbelievers, we “are never going to form the mind-set of the Spirit” (Moo, 257). We need to spend time with God. We need to talk to Him in prayer, enjoy His company as we encounter Him in His word, we need to ponder the things of Christ, be with His people, communicate with them about these things, sings songs and hymns, and many other things.

The question we are left with is this: Are you in Christ Jesus?  If you are, then you have something to be excited about.

John 4:1-26 True Worship

John 4:1-26         True Worship                                             WC McCarter

In John four, we meet Jesus as He is heading out of Judea and north to Galilee.  In between these two regions is the region of Samaria.  Most Jews would avoid Samaria by going around it along the Jordan River, since over 700 years of religious and racial prejudice separated the Jews and Samaritans.  Jews looked down on Samaritans who were half Jew and half Gentile, and considered them impure people.  Although it took more time, traveling along the river would be the easiest route.  Jesus had a special purpose for this trip.  He was on a mission.  He overlooked racism and disregarded the Jewish traditions of the time.  What he does and says is highly valuable.

In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, in response to one of the most heated questions of the day, Jesus makes a statement about worship and worshippers.  He told a Samaritan woman at a well that the time had come when true believers would worship God in spirit and truth.  This woman quickly grew to understand that Jesus was a prophet and maybe even the Messiah, but it is not clear whether she understood what Jesus meant by “spirit and truth.”  Yet, that is our goal today.  What was Jesus teaching about true worship, and how does it apply to us?


Point 1: Spirit and Truth- Linked
These 2 terms go hand in hand because they are both governed by the same preposition- “in.”  In effect, Jesus says that worship is to be, “In spirit and in truth.”  They are linked together.  We must interpret both terms in light of each other.  D. A. Carson says that they “form one matrix” and therefore are “indivisible” (226).

Connective: First, we see that both of these words must go together. This will guide us as we investigate this text.

Point 2: Location and Means- Dismissed
In the context, it seems that Jesus compares and contrasts location and means of worship.  These are the two subjects discussed.

*What locations are named?  (1) Mount Gerizim; (2) Jerusalem Temple
*What means of worship is understood at both?  Ritual Ceremonies

Jesus dismisses Mount Gerizim and even the Jerusalem Temple as the correct location for worship.  He also rejects the means of worship for both, which was ritual ceremonies.  Since both the location and means of worship have been dismissed, all we are left with is what?  Worship in spirit and truth.

The spirit (human) replaces both the Jerusalem and Gerizim locations for the appropriate place for worship, while truth replaces ritual ceremonies.  Let me mention that the apostle John often uses words that can have multiple meanings.  Here is an example, the word “truth” can also be translated as “faithfulness” or “reality.”  Jesus is saying that we must worship God with sincerity of heart, in truth, in faithfulness.  This is our true act of worship.  Outward rituals are not our means of genuine worship.  Love for the truth and faithfulness to the truth is our true means of worshipping God the Father through Christ the Son.

Connective: It is now clear that worship has changed to spirit and truth because the old locations and means have been replaced, but we now face the real question, What does it mean to worship in spirit and truth?

Point 3: Spirit and Truth- Meaning
At this point I like what Mark Moore says about true worship, “The Spirit of God and the spirit of man commingle.”  Worship is when our human spirits commingle with the Holy Spirit, with sincerity and complete reality before God.

Ritual was the old requirement of worship.  Jesus changes this to worship in truth, which is anything that is in harmony with God’s Word and will.

God is not limited to a place or time. We can commune with God anywhere at any time.  We can serve God in many capacities and in any place.

You know when you’re riding with someone and they have to slam on their brakes?  What do we do a lot of times?  We grab the dash, like it’s a steering wheel.  We tense up and try to push the brake with our foot, even though we are not behind the wheel.  It is an automatic reflex that we have developed.  Now, who can blame someone for doing that?  Yet, the same thing often happens in our worship times, but that cannot be excused.  That cannot be laughed off.  We cannot allow ourselves to merely go through the motions of a traditional routine.

Jesus said, “God is Spirit.”  God is much more than this physical world.  Worship is much more than a specific location or any ritualistic event.  Is it wrong to designate a place to meet for worship or to do many of the same things each week?  No, of course not.  We have the commands of the Lord and His apostles and the example of the early church to follow.  We are commanded to assemble together on a regular basis.  We are commanded to do some of the same things when we meet such as partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  We are to belong to a local church among whom we worship and serve.  Yet, we must understand that the location and means by which we worship do not control us.  We worship the Father in spirit and truth.  We can worship under a steeple, in a pew, at someone’s house, in someone’s basement, at a baseball stadium, at work, or out under a tree, etc.

Have you been in a spiritual rut?  Have you not “felt” the Spirit in worship?
Do you feel far away from God at times?

Let us forsake all forms of worship that are based merely on man-made traditions, human insights, and only outward activities.  This, of course, means that we must not bend to cultural pressure, whether it be secular culture or Christian culture, as to how we should worship our Lord.  We must be faithful to the truth, and we must worship Him in spirit.

Let us not engage in the “worship wars” to argue about music styles or what clothes we wear on Sundays.

Let us do this one thing: Worship God in spirit and in truth.  In your spirit, get to know the Lord better.  In your spirit, commune with the living God.  Let your spirit be the starting place of your obedience to the truth.  Believe in your spirit.  Trust in your spirit.  Pray in your spirit.  Love Christ in your spirit.  Let us be faithful to our Lord in everything we do because He has and will be faithful to us.

John 3:1-17 You Must Be Born Again

John 3:1-17        You Must Be Born Again                           WC McCarter

George Whitfield, a contemporary of John Wesley in 18th Century England, is known as one of the greatest preachers to ever live.  The Lord used him in mighty ways.  He gained wide renown in England, but he turned away from it in 1738 to come and preach in the small, American colony of Georgia.  When he came here he expected persecution, but was instead received as a messenger of God.  His fame spread here about as quickly as it had across the ocean, and he made several trips back and forth between the continents during his ministry.  Whitfield was good friends with Benjamin Franklin who once did an experiment about Whitfield’s voice.  Franklin calculated that Whitfield’s voice could be heard by 30,000 people at one time out in the open air (without any kind of sound system).  And, the content of his preaching was even more powerful than his voice.  Like many preachers during the Great Awakening, Whitfield stressed Christian conversion.  In this way, he was one of the founders of modern evangelicalism.  A lady once asked the preacher why he preached so often the words: “You must be born again.”  Whitefield replied, “Because, Madam, you must be born again.”  It is to that subject that I would like for us to turn our attention today as we look at John 3.

READ Scripture- This is the Word of God

Nicodemus most likely witnessed the events of chapter two (the overwhelming of the traditional institutions of Judaism: ritual vessels (2:6) and the temple (2:15) were both instruments of ritual cleansing now trumped by the Lord Jesus; Jesus Christ did not come simply to replace religious establishments, but to bring life that those institutions could never give).  Nicodemus even represents another institution of Judaism, the Pharisees who were teachers of the Old Testament law/Scriptures.

The end of the previous chapter (John 2:25) sets up the Nicodemus account fittingly, “For He knew what was in man” and then the next verses, beginning the section on Nicodemus, says, “there was a man of the Pharisees.”  Jesus knows what is inside of man and then a man shows up to inquire of Him!

[A] Nicodemus
Nicodemus inquires of the teacher which allows Jesus to further explain. The point here and in many of the discourses through this Gospel account is that there is generally a deficit that needs to be met in order to have a deeper understanding of Jesus words (most often faith or the Spirit).

1. Member of the Pharisees (v1)
2. Member of the Sanhedrin (v1) – Jewish ruling council
3. Reputable Rabbi (v10) – ‘The’ teacher of Israel

[B] Born Again
1. Nicodemus wants to start on simple terms and discuss Jesus’ signs. Jesus thwarts that idea and gets directly to the point- ‘You want to be in the Kingdom? You must be born again.’
2. You cannot even see the Kingdom of God unless you are born again. And “seeing” many times means “understanding.” You can’t even begin to understand unless you are born again. It certainly means “experience” here.
3. Nicodemus then asks a question with an ironic misunderstanding.
          a. The word used can mean “again” or it can mean “from above.”      Nicodemus takes it to mean “again.”
b. Because Nicodemus inquires farther with misunderstanding Jesus can now explain that being born again (from above) is to be born of water and the Spirit.

[C] Water and Spirit
          Several Interpretations have been offered:
          1. Water Baptism
- Acts 10:43-47 “Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’”
          2. Water Symbolizing the Holy Spirit
          - Thus “born of water, even the Spirit.”
          3. Water Symbolizing the Word of God.
- Ephesians 5:26 “that He might sanctify and cleanse her (the church) with the washing of water by the word.”
          4. Water as physical birth and the Spirit causing spiritual birth.
          - Though not a common understanding of physical birth.
5. Water meaning John the Baptizer’s baptism and the work of the Spirit afterward.
          6. OT imagery of “water” and “wind” to refer to God’s work from above.

- Isaiah 44:3 “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants.”
- Ezekiel 36:25-27 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean…I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.”

* I would now lean toward the Old Testament imagery as the true meaning of what Jesus said. It makes perfect sense and is rooted in Scripture. It is that the water and Spirit refer to one event (from above). The one thing that I would combine with it is baptism because what better time is there for God to cleanse you and put His Spirit in you? In fact, scripturally, the only guarantee of the Spirit is in baptism.

 [D] “So is Everyone Who is Born of the Spirit”
1. The Spirit comes to all who believe, but the work of the Spirit is mysterious as it comes and goes and does as it wishes.
2. No one and no thing can contain the Spirit and the work of the Spirit.
3. The only way to have a true understanding, the only way to know God, and the only way to see much less enter the Kingdom of God is for the Spirit to do something in your life and He does in the life of every believer. And the Spirit can only work because of what Christ has accomplished.

[E] Loving the World
- It is agreed by most who have studied this passage that vv. 16-21 are John’s words as commentary of what Jesus said.
          1. It speaks of the work of Christ in the past tense.
          a. “loved” b. “gave” c. “send”
          2. The phrasing is certainly John’s.
          a. “only begotten” b. “believed in the name” c. “he who does the truth”
- God loving the world may be surprising.
          1. Jews rarely, if ever, spoke of God loving more than Israel.
          2. In other places, John tells his readers to not love the world.
(1 John 2:15-17)
3. D.A. Carson has said, “There is no contradiction between this prohibition and the fact that God does love (the world). Christians are not to love the world with the selfish love of participation; God loves the world with the selfless, costly love of redemption.”

Conclusion and Christian Application

(1) Many are religious but lost.  Have you been born again?

(2) Not only is this something we believe for ourselves, but this is the standard that God holds for all people.  Therefore, this is the message that we declare to our neighbors, our community, and to the whole world, that you must be born again.  There is a great falling away in our time, but we will stand on the side of orthodoxy; we will stand on the side of Scripture; we will hold firm our commitment to Christ as the only hope of the world.

Psalm 121 My Help Comes from the Lord

Psalm 121            My Help Comes from the Lord                  WC McCarter

I would like to work our way through Psalm 121 and see the psalm in its original context and meaning.  After that, I would like for us to think about these themes and principles for our own day, in our own situations.

READ Scripture- This is the Word of God

Song of Ascents Background (Heading)
There are several psalms labeled “Songs of Ascents” which have been grouped together in Psalms 120-134.  These psalms were most likely sung by pilgrims making their way up to Jerusalem for holidays and other pilgrimages.  As they traveled through long, dusty, rocky, winding roads, they would sing these words of worship and confidence in the Lord.

Question (1)
One man says to another, or even to his own soul, that he looks unto the hills with the question, From where does my help come?  In those ancient times, a pilgrim could lift up his head, set his eyes on the mountains, and see some illegitimate resources—temples/altars to false gods.  He could look up and see the things of the world and consider who he should trust.  In chapter 18, Ezekiel references these false gods that set on the hilltops surrounding the area.  God was looking for godly men and women who had not eaten on the mountains or turned their eyes toward the idols.

Not only did the mountains represent idols and the temptation to turn to away from God and trust in them, the hills also represented danger.  Imagine traveling in those ancient times on narrow roads surrounded by hills, going long stretches of time without seeing any other travelers.  You would not know what was lurking up there.  There could be wild animals or robbers who set out to injure and raid pilgrims.  You would be looking for supernatural help.

Answer (2)
Thus, in verse two, the man is answered by a fellow traveler, or he voices an answer to his own question as he preaches to his soul.  What is the answer?  “My help comes from the Lord who is the Maker of heaven and earth.”  The Lord is the true and living God as opposed to the dead, false gods made of created elements.  God created the things from which the idols were made.  There is no help from false gods.  Also, the hills were created by God and tings even more majestic.  He is the Creator of all things—great and small, the things we can see and the things we cannot see.  If your help comes from Him, then you have nothing to fear.  He is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-resourceful, merciful, forgiving, and loving.  There is none as impressive as our God.  There is none who can do what He can do.  There is none who has promised all the good that He has promised to us.

Our Keeper (3-5)
I was intrigued to learn in my study that Baal was a “seasonal god” who would have to be roused from sleep after a period of hibernation.  How silly are these notions.  A guard’s chief duty is to stay awake!  Our God neither sleeps nor slumbers.  He does not have a body that grows weary that He would need rest.  He does not have eyes that may get heavy and need to shut.  He is Almighty God.  He will not allow your foot to be moved, and He can ensure it because there is never even the slightest moment when He is not keeping watch over us.  Verse five says the Lord is our Keeper (Protector or Guard).  He is on our side.

The idea at the end of verse five transitions us to the last section—God is the shade at our right hand.  There is nothing that we cannot fend off.

Our Preserver (6-8)
As we can imagine, the sun is a constant danger in the Middle East.  It can dehydrate, burn, and more.  It causes folks to pass out or even to die.  It takes a toll on the bodies of those who are out in its light for too long.  Think of a traveler out on the roads in the sun’s rays for hours at a time.  The moon was thought in those days, and even in ours, to cause people to act crazy.  Of course, these may be taken metaphorically as dangers from which the Lord shades His people.  As our shade, the Lord protects us from the sun and moon—from all potential dangers.  He protects us at all times, day and night.

If God can protect us from the most powerful forces on earth, then He can surely protect us from anything.  Many things are unknown to us, but God knows them all.  He will preserve us from all evil.  He will preserve our souls.  He will complete the good work that He has started in us.

Conclusion and Christian Application
Now, I have talked with several of you just this week who are going through a variety of different circumstances.  Some of you are struggling because of your own weaknesses or because of the weaknesses of others.  You can turn your eyes up and look to the world today to find some kind of answer, or you can look beyond the hills and even the heavens to the Creator of heaven and earth.

(1) Nowhere does this psalm promise that we will live easy lives.  In fact, God allows us to go through physical challenges sometimes in order to preserve our souls.  He wishes to strengthen our faith.  He wishes to keep us in a relationship with Him rather than the things of the world.  Those things are passing, but the Lord’s promises endure forever.

(2) If you put your trust in the Lord and set your eyes upon Him, then you are guarded from the time you leave your house in the morning until you come home at night, from the time you lay your head on your pillow to sleep until you wake up.  The Lord God is your guard.

Romans 8:31 God is For Us

Romans 8:31       God is For Us                                             WC McCarter

READ Scripture- This is the Word of God

Let me illustrate this point for you.  Roughly 700 years before Christ, Assyria was the great world empire.  They came down from the north and destroyed the northern nation (and tribes) of Israel in 722 BC.  The prophets of God foretold this event and said that it was the Lord’s judgment on the people because of their rebellion against Him.  In 701 BC, the Assyrians, led by King Sennacherib, went down into the southern nation of Judah and conquered it.  The only city that stood was Jerusalem, and they surrounded it.  There was no chance that Jerusalem and Hezekiah king of Judah could defend or save themselves.  Yet, let me read to you from 2 Kgs 19:9-19, 35-37.  You can turn there too, if you would like.

Time and again, God has fought for His people.  He is sovereign over all things and orchestrates all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  Even when things look very bleak, God shows up for His people, sometimes in miraculous fashion.  Of course, this narrative is only one way that God has been “for” His people in history, but there are several different examples and many ways to consider the fact that God is for us and no one can stand against us in any absolute sense.

Now, let us go back to our main verse today, Romans 8:31.

First Question: What then shall we say to these things?
This question introduces a conclusion.  So, we must decide what section is being concluded.  What does the phrase “these things” refer to?  Three options are before us: (1) it concludes 8:18-30 about hope in the midst of suffering and God’s promise that all things will turn out for good for those who love Him; or (2) it concludes chapters 6-8 about being dead to sin and alive to God; or (3) concludes the entire epistle thus far.  I tend to lean toward this final interpretive option which takes “these things” to refer to the entire epistle.  The NEB translates this question, “With all of this in mind, what are we to say?”  You have heard me say this at the end of sermons before.

*Here is what the apostle is concluding: Chapters 1-8 *Give summary.

Now that we know the whole sweep of God’s work of redemption and love, how do we respond?  Is there even a response that can be given?

Second Question: If God is for us, who can be against us?
There are many who are “against us” in our day.  The culture (especially the sexual revolutionaries); the media; university professors; etc.  Do not let us neglect other things that war against us such as hardships, persecutions, sin, death, and Satan.

The “if” that begins the second question should be taken in the sense of “since it is so.”  It is stated rhetorically.  Let’s not miss the Jewish character of this question: (1) There may be many against us but none compare to the one God (see Isa 40:25-31 and Rom 8:38-39); (2) Many Old Testament saints put there confidence in the Lord even in the midst of their suffering (see Ps 23:4; 56:9; 118:6-7); and (3) There is also the idea of Final Judgment when all God’s people will be vindicated, especially the martyrs.

Conclusion: God is For Us
Not everyone can make the claim that God is for them.  God said many times in the Old Testament, “I am against you says the LORD.”  With God on our side there is no fear of defeat.

Some have attempted to make God out to be a “glory-hog” as if He is only for Himself, but we see here a great summary of the message of the whole Bible that God is also “for us.”  This is the Gospel in one simple verse.  God is no longer against you.  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  You were once an enemy of God, but He has reconciled you to Himself by the precious blood of Christ.  He is not against you.  He is not angry with you.  He is “for you.”  Therefore, there is no person or thing that we should fear.  Since God is for us, no one can ultimately stand against us.